Biking tips

BMW set to introduce automatic transmission on motorbikes

BMW Automatic Transmission

Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) system has been a big hit since being introduced over a decade ago. More than half of the company’s Africa Twin adventure bikes sold last year featured the system, which allows the rider to choose between a fully automated transmission or a finger operated semi-automatic gearshift, and with almost 250,000 DCT equipped Hondas sold to date, the only surprise is that more manufacturers haven’t joined the bandwagon. Until now…

BMW has announced its Automated Shift Assistant (ASA) system which, although not as complex as the Honda DCT, could see us riding around on an automatic R 1300 GS in the not too distant future.

The company has not yet mentioned which bikes will get the ASA treatment, when they will go on sale or how much it will cost but, looking at the popularity of DCT, its likely to be well received by the biking public. With more and more people driving automatic cars, and technology often making them more engaging, rather than a sluggish alternative to a manual, it is no surprise to see the BMW going down the auto route.



BMW Automatic Transmission Detail


The company uses the phrase ‘Simplify your ride’ to describe the reasoning behind the ASA system. Rather than being a complex mechanical/hydraulic system, as previous generation automatics were, it features two electromechanical actuators, which automate the clutch and gear change functions of what appears to be the regular R 1300 gearbox. There is no physical clutch lever, although the rider can change gear using a traditional foot operated gearlever if they wish, making the system more like Honda’s E-clutch technology than a dual clutch set-up.

BMW has been keen to emphasise that the ASA has been developed ‘without sacrificing the emotionally important dynamics of shifting’ suggesting that they feel many motorcyclists still want to change gear manually. The tech should allow riders to switch between modes depending on their mood or situation, for example being able to go fully automatic around town or while touring, but with the ability to switch to manual mode when they want to ride in a more sporting manner. Starting, stopping and manoeuvring will undoubtedly be easier, especially pulling away on hills and on tricky surfaces, as the bike cannot be stalled. Even in manual mode, the electronics will intervene to make a downshift rather than let the revs drop too low.

The two modes, M for manual and D for drive (automatic) can be toggled through the switchgear. BMW says the shift action in D mode is set to be as smooth as possible, but characteristics will be linked to the ride mode the bike is in at the time, suggesting a lazier change in softer maps and a later change threshold in the more sporting modes.

BMW hasn’t said when bikes equipped with ASA will go on sale, or which models will be available with the option, however it’s been developed on the R 1300 boxer engine, suggesting a launch on the new R 1300 GS fairly soon, with a roll out to other models with the 1300 engines as the come online in the next few years.

Automatic motorcycles look set to become increasingly common in coming years and we would expect adoption on the GS to be significant step in that movement. Where automatic gearboxes historically had major drawbacks, namely weight, sluggish changing and added cost, the new approach of electronically automating the clutch process creates a more natural feeling transmission with few of the disadvantages.

For riders who want a more relaxing ride, shorter riders on taller bikes and anyone looking for more ease and flexibility in their riding, we expect autos to become more and more popular as other manufacturers surely following in the tyre tracks of BMW and Honda.


Bike News, Inside Bikes

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